Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What is propagation?

I’ll start from the basics. The word propagation can mean several different things.  In the context of meteorology, we use the word "propagate" to describe the movement of certain weather properties of interest. In the context of plants, the word “propagation” refers to producing new plants from one of a number of different sources (i.e., seed or clipping).

I think my interest in propagation is three-fold:

1. I would like to have more plants without buying them,

2. it’s a fun challenge and

3. the science is intriguing to me.

There are a number of methods for propagating plants.  The most simple is probably division. Many plants will reproduce underneath the soil, sending off runners and developing new plants. In this case, you can divide these plants by pulling the roots apart and separating the individual plants. Many times a plant can even be successfully divided by cutting a large root ball apart. This works well for: mature asparagus ferns, aglaonemas, wandering jew, moneywort, etc.

Another simple method of propagation is to root soft cuttings in a vase of water. Some plants that this works well for are: again wandering jew, pothos ivy, many philodendrons, lipstick plant, and pineapples.

The technique of layering deals with forcing roots to form along the stem of a plant and then removing that section of plant when the roots are mature enough to support the section without the mother plant. Did that make sense? One way of doing a layer propagation is called air-layering. It’s a neat concept that I have tried many times, with no success. First, a set of leaves is removed from a softwood stem of a plant, bush or tree. [By the way, softwood is often defined as an area of new growth that would make a “snapping” sound if you were to break it]. Next, an incision is made in the stem at this location. It is best to apply rooting hormone to the wound. (Of course, I have never had a successful rooting, so what do I know about what’s best!?!) A toothpick (or a piece of one) can be inserted in the cut to hold it open, and other toothpicks may be used as a splint, to hold the stem together (as if it were a broken bone). Lastly, the area should be wrapped in plastic with moist peat moss inside. This dressing allows the entire plant to support the section of plant which has been wounded, while encouraging roots to form in the peat moss. Here is a good website with instructions and visualizations.

There are other forms of layering, as well. Regular layering (sometimes called mound layering) is accomplished by building up the dirt around the base of a plant or bush and running several branches of the bush through the mound. Some plants will freely begin to produce roots at nodes along the buried branch or stem. Other plants require the extra encouragement of a wound and some rooting hormone.

Some of the more simple forms of propagation include starting plants from seed or corm/rhizome/bulb separation. This separation technique is much like division except that rhizome separation often requires cutting a rhizome into pieces, which is a scary step for someone who has a plant they want to multiply, not kill. Irises can be propagated by simply cutting the creeping rhizome into pieces. Conversely, tulip bulbs can simply be separated when new bulbs are formed each year.

There are some more advanced techniques that I may try eventually, but first I need to master (or at least have some limited success) with the more primitive forms of propagation. Some advanced techniques are tissue culture (micro propagation) and grafting. Tissue culture is used extensively in the nursery business, so I am told. It sounds a little complicated, but it turns out that it is not much of a mystery at all. Grafting is a common technique used for rose gardening and for fruit trees. It can be accomplished by removing a single bud from the desired rose/fruit parent plant. Then a special inverted-T shape incision is made in the host plant to hold the bud. The bud is secured in place and the plant is watered as normal. A successful grafted bud will begin to grow in about a week. An unsuccessfully grafted bud will turn black pretty quickly.

I’ll be posting again soon, chronicling “My Attempts at Propagation.”  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Since my last post I have acquired several new plants, specifically three Aglaonemas. So, this post is going to be about Aglaonemas. As I mentioned in the last post, I have lots of favorite plants, but genus-wide, Aglaonemas are my favorite. They are a very common foliage plant in office buildings, malls, etc. – commonly called “Chinese Evergreen,” “Silver King,” or “Silver Queen.” It is a very low maintenance plant that grows well in a range of lighting conditions and watering. For this reason, many different varieties have been cultivated that have varying silvery variegations. The goal of these cultivars is to create a more showy, unique look, with the same hardiness as the natural occurring species. Here’s what I know about them:Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
SubClass: base monocots
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
SubFamily: Aroideae
Tribe: Aglaonemateae

I have compiled a list (nomenclature) with as many different species and cultivars as I could find.

Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
SubClass: base monocots
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
SubFamily: Aroideae
Tribe: Aglaonemateae

Two of the species I found recently were of average size plants (about 8 inches tall) – of species that I had not seen before.

My third find was another A. species I had not seen before(below), but this one was monstrous - and blooming! Aglaonemas are not known for their inflorescence (bloomage), so I was surprised to see fairly elegant, simple white blooms on this plant that closely resemble a peace lily (spathiphyllum). I have not been able to get a proper species identification on this one yet.

ag1 ag2

A couple of my Anubias plants have also produced nice blooms in my 29 gallon planted aquarium, that resemble the bloom of a peace lily.
Back to my new species of Aglaonemas...
I have another new species (below) without an id. It looks a bit like a variety of A. pictum. The leaves have three shades of green and the plant appears much darker than most Aglaonema species, due to its lack of silver coloring.

ag3 ag4

My other new Aglaonema (below) is also unidentified. It has fairly large leaves that are predominantly silver, with two shades of green.

And here are some pictures of my other Aglaonemas:


A. commutatum (above): This was my first Aglaonema, given to me by my mom. It grows on a long, spindly stalk, much less like a rosette, compared with my others. It was in a jar of water for a long period of time (at least a year) rooting, before it was planted and given to me.

ag7 ag8

A. 'B.J. Freeman'(above): This one is a very large cultivar and has survived an attack by Pippa, my dog. She ate several of the large leaves, leaving behind the spines. It had a rough time for a couple weeks after that, but has recovered pretty nicely.
ag9 ag10
A. minima:
This plant (above) is claimed to be an Aglaonema. I'm not sure that it is; I'm not sure that it isn't. I am sure that it doesn't look much like the pictures of the plant before I ordered it (above-top)! I have 5 of these living in my 29 gallon aquarium, where their leaves turn yellow and mushy quite often, but are replaced by new growth.

A. 'Maria'
(above): Last is my favorite - Maria. It seems to be the most striking of all Aglaonema I have seen. And it does help that this is my fullest Aglaonema.

As far as I know, there are about 20 naturally-occurring legitimate species and probably around 150 cultivars. Some of them are so similar that I don’t know how they can be correctly identified. Just in case anyone is interested, I like to post pictures of my unidentifiables plants to the “Name that plant” forum ( There are lots of knowledgeable people who regularly check the forum and identify plants for people. Most Aglaonemas have cool silvery splotches of some sorts. But there are a couple that are not very showy, and to me, not very interesting (A. modestum). Some cool Aglaonemas that I don’t have include A. costatum, A. ‘Black Lance’, A. ‘White Lance’, and A. pictum ‘tricolor’.

Friday, July 13, 2007


This post commences my plant blog. In the last year or two I have become a very avid hobbyist of all things plants. Maybe not all things plants, but many things plants, including some tangent hobbies. In fact, one of these tangent hobbies is how I made my way towards “plant-geek.”
I have kind of liked plants for a long time. When I was younger I used to help my mom water all of her plants. I was pretty good at remembering all of the names and identifying them when I saw them away from our home. My grandmothers were both fond of flowers and plants, too.

So, when I had my own house I naturally had a couple of houseplants to make the place feel “like home.”

Oddly enough, I think my current obsession with plants (yes, it is an obsession: ask Christie!) grew out of my aquarium hobby, which I just started at the beginning of 2005. After setting up my 29 gallon aquarium I was excited and spent quite a bit of time watching my newly-acquired fish swim around my fully-stocked tank. But soon, I became a little less interested in my aquarium, which would change little with time. All of my time of planning the perfect fish and decorations had allowed me to constantly change my mind and redesign. However, after the aquarium was set up there were few changes I could make (usually just when I lost a fish). Anyway, I soon found that there were some aquatic plants that could be added to my aquarium – and some of the fish I had in my tank actually prefer a planted tank! So I slowly started collecting plants for my aquarium and making my aquarium more suitable for their growth. I even went through a tedious process of emptying my tank and starting the whole setup again, using a richer plant substrate, rather than large gravel pebbles. I quickly became a huge fan of the aquatic genus Anubias. I now own the following Anubias species:

· A. afzelli var. lanceolata
· A. barteri
· A. barteri var. nana
· A. barteri var. nana ‘petite’
· A. barteri var. nana ‘marble leaf’
· A. coffeefolia
· A. gracilis

So, you might notice that one of those tangent hobbies that I have taken on is plant taxonomy. Not that I am a taxonomist, or anything. But I really like to know what varieties of each plant that I have. And I like to try to collect as many different types that I can. It’s especially a challenge for aquatic plants, since there are relatively few locations to buy them.

The analogous houseplant genus that I collect like anubias is called aglaonema. It is a very common and popular foliage plant used in office buildings and malls, etc. It’s common name is ‘Chinese Evergreen.’ There are a ton of varieties of this plant, both natural and cultivars. I just have 5 of them as of right now, but I am planning on collecting quite a few more. I currently have:

· A. ‘Silver King’ (nitidum x. pictum ‘Tricolor’)
· A. ‘B.J. Freeman’
· A. Minima
· A. ‘Maria’
· A. unknown

But hey! I'm getting a little too specific for my introductory post. Maybe you're wondering why I named my blog site what I did (or maybe not). Being a connoisseur of fine foliage plants, I like variegation, so rather than naming my site after the common phrase “The Green Thumb,” I chose this fun variation - or maybe I should say variegation! :)For now, I will leave you with a picture of a beautiful scindapsus pictus:

Scindapsus pictus